Music was playing. A spectacular full moon hung overhead. It was like the setting for a Western," says Beverly Turner Clark, meeting planner for New York Life Asset Management in Parsippany, N.J. Clark is describing the scene of the outdoor cookout she planned for 60 of the company's upper and middle managers during a meeting at Tucson's Westin La Paloma Resort last October. She took full advantage of La Paloma's distinctive desert location to arrange for many on-site events. After several days of meetings, attendees were rewarded with a day off to play golf or tennis or to take a Jeep tour in the desert. Clark likes meeting in Arizona because of the "predictably good weather" which makes it easy to plan such outdoor activities. Attendees like meeting in Tucson, Clark adds, because of the relaxed, casual atmosphere: They can leave the coats and ties at home.

Arizona's great weather and scenic splendor are often enough to convince meeting executives to select the Grand Canyon State as a meeting site. Then there are the luxury properties concentrated in the two major metropolitan areas, Tucson and Phoenix/Scottsdale's Valley of the Sun. Most of these offer full-service spas and expansive pool and recreation facilities--including championship golf courses. For links-lovers, desert golf courses lined with soaring saguaros and abutting boulder-strewn foothills are a special challenge. Phoenix's Valley of the Sun has more than 180 courses with three more under construction.

New to Phoenix's revitalized downtown is the Arizona Science Center and Phoenix Art Museum, plus new restaurants, theaters, and entertainment venues. And two new hotels have been announced, bringing the total number of rooms in the downtown area to 2,700 by 2001.

Scottsdale is looking forward to the fall completion of Scottsdale Fashion Square's expansion, making the mall one of the largest regional shopping destinations in the southwest, with 50 new shops. Scottsdale's downtown Waterfront Project will also add new shops, restaurants, and recreation and entertainment venues. In addition, the $3 million Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art will open in 1999.

In November, Mesa and Tempe voters will decide the fate of the largest development project in the state. The newly announced Rio Salado Crossing, a $2.3 billion sports stadium and convention center complex, needs voter consent to levy a 20-year, quarter-cent sales tax. If approved, the complex would consist of three integrated features: a convention hall, a 1,250-room hotel, and a multipurpose stadium that would provide a million square feet of exhibition and meeting space.

Tucson is the repository of the state's history and its Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and pioneer cultural roots. There is enough to see and do in the city known as Old Pueblo to keep attendees entertained for a week. One not-to-bemissed attraction: the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum.

Tucson is also a great jumping-off point for visits to the southern part of the state. Among them are the vintage Western mining towns of Bisbee, Douglas, and Tombstone (site of the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral); the wineries around Sonoita and Patagonia; birding spots, such as Madera Canyon and the Chiricahua Mountains; and the artist colony at Tubac. A favorite side trip: Bargain shopping in the Mexican border town of Nogales, less than an hour from downtown Tucson.

Hotel News The Phoenix Area * A 700-room Westin convention hotel with 55,000 square feet of meeting space will be located in Collier Center, across from the Phoenix Civic Plaza.

* Also in downtown Phoenix, a 400-room Doubletree hotel at the Arizona Center is scheduled for completion in 2000.

* The Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa will add 120 oversized guest rooms, boosting its inventory to 740 rooms and villas. The addition will also include meeting rooms and an Olympic-sized pool. There is 60,000 square feet of meeting space.

* Scottsdale Hilton Resort & Villas will undergo a $15 million expansion and renovation to be completed in spring 1999. The project will add 65 junior suites and executive rooms and a new 10,000-square-foot ballroom, bringing the total meeting space to 24,000 square feet.

* The Doubletree Paradise Valley resort in Scottsdale has completed an $8.5 million improvement and expansion program. The resort's 32,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space was renovated and all 387 guest rooms and suites were refurbished.

* Embassy Suites Resort-Scottsdale is undergoing a renovation of the Breakfast Clubhouse and three executive boardrooms, plus seven elevators. A new business center will open this September.

* Host Marriott Corp. just purchased the posh Phoenix Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the Esplanade. It is slated for a $40 million expansion that will include an additional 150 guest rooms, 20 luxury condominiums, and an 8,000-square-foot ballroom. There are currently 281 guest rooms and 20,000 square feet of meeting space.

* Marriott's Camelback Inn Resort, Golf Club and Spa is nearing completion on its $35 million, four-year renovation project. The Jackrabbit pool complex will include such features as multi-tiered sun decks, underwater music, and separate children's play areas. The resort's 453 deluxe adobe casitas are also being remodeled. The property has 40,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The SunBurst Resort in Scottsdale was awarded the 1997 American Society of Interior Designers' Design Excellence Award for renovation of its lobby, restaurant, and conference and banquet facilities. The 210-room resort has 14,300 square feet of meeting space.

* The Radisson Resort and Spa, Scottsdale's 20,000-square-foot health spa will open in October. The world-class spa, overlooking the property's Zen gardens, has been designed with an Oriental flair. The 318-room, 35-suite property has a total of 30,000 square feet of meeting space indoors and an additional 100,000 square feet of outdoor function space.

* The Pointe Hilton Resort on South Mountain has completed a $1 million renovation of its newly named Phantom Horse Golf Club. The resort, with 638 suites and 85,000 square feet of function and meeting space, now has both of its 18-hole golf courses open.

* Scottsdale's Renaissance Cottonwoods Resort's 171 guest rooms will receive a $1.6 million refurbishment by the end of the year. The resort has 8,000 square feet of meeting space.

* Scottsdale's Lincoln Towne Centre, a $39 million downtown redevelopment project, has begun construction on the first of its three hotels, a 200-room Hilton Garden Inn. Also included in the project will be a 160-room Summerfield Suites, a 128-unit Prime Amerisuites, and offices, shops, and restaurants.

* The Tempe Mission Palms Hotel will undergo an $11 million property-wide remodeling. In addition to upgrading and refurbishing the 303 guest rooms, all 25,000 square feet of meeting space will be remodeled in compliance with standards set by the International Association of Conference Centers.

Tucson * Tucson's Loews Ventana Canyon Resort has begun a $3 million remodeling of its 398 guest rooms and corridors. The patio reception area next to the Kiva Ballroom is getting a $90,000 upgrade and a new $70,000 acoustical stage is being added to the outdoor barbecue area. The resort has 37,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The Westward Look Resort, with 244 guest rooms and 8,000 square feet of meeting space, now offers special privileges at the Robert Trent Jones, Jr.- designed Raven Golf Club at Sabino Springs.

* Westin's La Paloma Resort will be the site of Janos, one of Tucson's most acclaimed restaurants, due to open this fall.

* In 1999, the 428-room Sheraton El Conquistador Resort & Country Club will add 25,000 square feet to its existing 30,000 square feet of meeting space.

* North of Tucson, the Miraval Resort in Catalina, with 106 casitas and suites, has opened the Catalina Learning Center.

Sedona * Enchantment Resort is in the process of a major expansion, with 60 deluxe casitas opening at the end of this year, bringing the guest room total to 222. Also opening is the new meeting "village" that will accommodate 400 people and add 13,000 square feet of meeting space to the current 5,000.

* The new 225-room Delta Sedona Golf and Conference Resort is scheduled for year-end completion. It will have 5,000 square feet of flexible ballroom space that seats up to 400, four smaller meeting rooms, and six executive boardroom suites.

Getting There All major U.S. airlines and two European carriers fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Most Phoenix/Scottsdale hotels and resorts are within a 30-minute drive of the Phoenix airport. Taxi fare to downtown is about $12.

Major airlines serving Tucson International Airport include America West, American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Southwest, and United. Nonstop service is available to 15 U.S. cities. There is van service and taxi service to the major Tucson resorts, with fares ranging from $15 to $40. The taxi fare to downtown Tucson is approximately $17.

Tax and Money Matters Tax on hotel rooms is 10.625 percent in Phoenix, 10.725 percent in Scottsdale, 9.875 percent in Mesa, 10.025 percent in Tempe, and, depending on the location, between 7.5 percent and 9.5 percent in the Tucson area. The sales tax in Arizona ranges between 7 and 7.5 percent.*

For Fortis Benefits Insurance Company, golf was the incentive for 130 of its top qualifiers and top brokers to head for the Scottsdale Resort Suites. The Kansas City, Mo.-based insurer took full advantage of Arizona's reputation as a premier golf destination, tying the sales meeting to the Phoenix Open, one of the PGA's best attended golf tournaments. Gary Johnson of Johnson-Campbell Company in Phoenix planned the meeting, including booking a hospitality tent at the Phoenix Open's Corporate Village. While joining the crowds watching the golfers was great, observes Johnson, for most of the Fortis qualifiers "coming out to Scottsdale to play golf in the middle of winter was a huge draw."

Charles P. Rogers, director of sales promotion for American United Life Insurance Company in Indianapolis, has brought incentive groups to Scottsdale three times in the past two years. Using the services of a destination management company, Rogers has found some unusual ways to reward his qualifiers. One evening, for example, a catered dinner to honor some of the company's top producers was held in a multimillion-dollar private mountainside home in Phoenix. Rogers says that everyone enjoyed the spectacular view of the city lights twinkling below. He also made use of Arizona's unique natural environment by arranging for a scenic float trip down the Verde River.

Back in 1916, when the folks from Goodyear Tire built a small retreat near the company's Arizona cotton fields, this stretch of mountain-ringed valley outside of Phoenix was dominated by giant saguaro cactuses and howling coyotes. After 1929, when the expanded 13-room lodge was opened to the public, The Wigwam became a favorite Western watering hole for Hollywood stars, who were drawn in part by perks that included their own horse at check-in.

Today, guests at the Wigwam Resort are more likely to cruise around in golf carts, although trail riding in nearby Estrella Mountain National Park is still popular. Also popular is trap and skeet shooting, biking, tennis, swimming in either of two heated pools, and working out in the well-equipped fitness center. But with three world-class golf courses, it's not surprising that this manicured getaway has become a mecca for former President Gerald Ford and other golf-bag-toting chief executives.

Located 25 minutes from the Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, The Wigwam has 331 cozy casitas and 70 luxury suites, all with enormous bathrooms. There are three distinctly different restaurants, supervised by former Reagan White House chef Jon Hill. There's also a roster of ready-made theme dinners, including A Night on the Santa Fe Trail, complete with its own Grand Pueblo.

For a truly unusual event, ask The Wigwam's in-house prop shop about Sunset Point, an imitation ghost town five minutes from the resort's porticoed entrance. Ideal for barbecues and hoe-downs, it's also been the setting for one insurance firm's extraterrestrial event: Attendees discovered their Old West get-together was taken over by aliens hovering overhead in a huge spacecraft.

Mesa Convention & Visitors Bureau Bob Crouse, direc., sales and mktg. (800) 283-MESA Fax: (602) 827-0727 www.arizonaguide.com/mesa

Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau Peggy Whitman, conv. sales manager (800) 535-8898 Fax: (602) 235-4415 www.arizonaguide.com/phoenix

Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau Kathy McCarthy, conv. sales mgr. (800) 877-1117 Fax: (602) 947-4523 www.arizonaguide.com/scottsdale

Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Chamber of Commerce Frank Miller, president (800) 288-7336 Fax: (520) 204-1064 www.arizonaguide.com/sedona

Tempe Convention & Visitors Bureau M.J. Carmody, direc., sales and mktg. (800) 283-6734 Fax: (602) 968-8004 www.arizonaguide.com/tempe

Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau Susan Skinner, director of sales (800) 638-8350 Fax: (520) 884-7804 www.arizonaguide.com/visittucson